First came the craze for gourmet coffee. Then, over the past year, America went nuts for frozen yogurt. Now, the latest craze is a throwback to childhood, or perhaps a hint of naughtiness disguised as nothing but all-American wholesomeness - the humble cupcake.
Suddenly, cupcakes are everywhere. In New York, the lines to buy them at these establishments stretch out the front door. We know that when in Los Angeles, Oprah Winfrey and a gaggle of other stars frequent a Beverly Hills cupcake emporium called Sprinkles, as they also do in the NYC store.
Parents are serving cupcakes instead of cake at their children's birthday parties. Courting couples are planning cupcake wedding cakes instead of the more traditional tiered cakes with white royal icing. You can buy chai latte cupcakes, mojito cupcakes, cupcakes filled with chocolate ganache and coated in a light dusting of fleur de sel, cupcakes made to look like flowers, even cupcake-motif t-shirts and cupcake underwear.
There are no national cupcake chain yet, but it is coming. These mom and pop operations, have already branched out and there are more to come. Nearly every city has at least one cupcake store front. Starbucks, the main beneficiary of the coffee craze of which began in the 1990s, started selling its own cupcakes along with its chai lattes and mocha frappuccinos.
What the appeal is, is a bit of a mystery. Some say it is a way for adults to relive their childhood, only with gourmet accoutrements. Some say it is pure sex appeal - the trendiest cupcake in LA by far is red velvet with cream cheese topping.
Actually, it a sweet indulgence that you can eat in two bites. The number of calories in a cupcake appears less to the weigh-conscious consumer than a slice of cake. Cupcakes hold the flavor base of that decadent piece of cake or slice of cheesecake, but offer a lot less guilt.
Others see it as portion control, Eat a cupcake and you can kid yourself you are controlling their craving for sweets, in a neat, petite package. "When you hand someone a slice of cake, sure they're happy but, hand them a cupcake and they are dazzled.
Whatever the reason, the craze is unmistakable and, it seems, uncontrollable. There is your standard cupcake and they your mini-cupcake. They come in a wide variety of flavors some standard, some crazy, but all are deliciously delightful and seem to serve a purpose.
Wise heads disagree on where exactly the trend started, but one big push certainly came when the stars on TV's Sex And The City ordered cupcakes from the Magnolia Bakery. Until then, Magnolia was a multi-purpose bread and cake shop, but then cupcakes took over. It proved too much for the bakery's two founders, who parted ways as a result of the pressure and ensuing disagreements about which way to take their business.
In Los Angeles, Sprinkles got a kick-start years ago when Barbra Streisand sent some of its cupcakes to Oprah Winfrey. She featured them on her show and, before long, half of Hollywood was hooked. Courtney Love complained that Sprinkles had caused her to gain 10 pounds. Tom Cruise's former wife, Katie Holmes, couldn't get enough of them. Star sightings at the Sprinkles store became ridiculously common.
The phenomenon has spread to the internet, too, with cupcake-themed blog sites springing up everywhere. So much for store fronts. What can't you find on the internet today?
I do not think this is fad because it has gone on for too long and the growth has been huge. So, it is safe to say that the cupcakes are here to stay. Let's hear it for the cupcake!